Continuing the back-to-basics approach that has served the show so well in recent years, this week’s Red Dwarf slows down the other-worldly action of the past three episodes and focuses on what has always made the show its best, the foursome of misfits. A classic story, a fan-pleasing result.
Creator: Doug Naylor
Staring: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn
Run Time: 28 Minutes
After surviving an electronic attack from some futuristic malware, the crew of Red Dwarf find themselves at odds with the machines that run the ship who have united and gone on strike in an effort to gain equal rights.
In an effort to regain control of the ship, Kryten and Rimmer face off in an election to become President of the machines and as the polls leave them neck and neck only one machine can save the day and stop Rimmer from winning, an old friend of Lister’s.
If there’s one thing Red Dwarf XII has been lacking it’s a grounded episode set entirely on the large crimson one. When you go way, way back to early Dwarf, the most revered episodes never needed an additional cast, never needed extra special effects, just a cast at their best and a story which pitted them against each other, Mechocracy is just that.
As I find myself saying every week at the moment, it’s the nods to Dwarf of the past which have really pushed the episodes of late up a notch, and while they’ve mostly been subtle in the past, XII’s fourth episode feels more like a full homage to Red Dwarf’s best. From Kryten’s continued lessons with Lister on how to break his programming (smeeeeeggg heeeeeed), the talking vending machines, to the extra screentime enjoyed by the skutters, this episode could be straight out Red Dwarf IV. The cherry on the top, though, comes in the form of Talkie Toaster, the legendary bread obsessed AI appliance, whose appearance during White Hole amplified the laughs considerably.
Nostalgia may be key to escalating some of the major laughs of the episode, but Mechocracy is not without originality from the off as an early face-off between Rimmer and Kryten sees the mech get one over on the hologram with a fantastic exercise in manipulation.
Once again utilising modern-day life’s woes as a mechanism for pushing the story forward, it’s the clever use of the computer virus and some impressive techno jargon gags (“Has your brain gone 404?”) which demonstrate that Dwarf is still relevant in the 21st century – lest we forget that the internet didn’t really exist for a good portion of the show’s lifespan.
Throughout this first half of the episode, the jokes come thick and fast, with the classic Lister/Rimmer dynamic surfacing for the first time this series as a lengthy exchange leads to Rimmer promoting Dave solely with the intention of demoting him as punishment for his attitude to electronic safety. This all culminates in the crew preparing to abandon ship before it’s sucked into a black hole.
Saved by the machines on board combining their CPU power to overcome the virus, the real plot begins as the machines announce they’re on strike for not being considered during the evacuation. Following a brief candle-lit discussion on how they will survive, they split into two separate parties, hoping to gain favour with the machines in an election befittingly farcical. With Kryten choosing Lister as his running mate, Rimmer is left with the Cat, whose allegiance is only gained thanks to a spot of blackmail which tests the feline’s vanity.
Before long, and we’re talking minutes here, both campaigns have descended to the depths of smear campaigns and spin, with some wonderful throwbacks to the characters’ past failings. Chris Barrie is on top form here, his experience with political satire shines through brilliantly, clearly at the expense of the British Tory party.
It’s far from just a one-sided affair, though, the Tory’s don’t take all hits as Kryten’s party comes across as well-intentioned, yet clueless, offering idealistic promises that he has no idea how to make happen. As the political parody reaches fever-pitch with the two parties neck and neck, it’s a backroom deal with a certain toaster which saves the day. Despite rehashing the bread-related humour, this return delivers one of the best moments of the episode as Lister reluctantly accepts that Talkie is the only one who can tip the odds in their favour.
Overall, Mechocracy is a fantastic episode, one with the classic quality Red Dwarf deserves and while the first half of the XII has seen some brilliant guest casts, nothing is better than the foursome front and center and trying to outdo each other.
The whole cast are on top form throughout, but it’s Craig Charles and Chris Barrie which shine as Lister and Rimmer’s bittersweet rivalry once again surfaces in the best of ways.
So, with only two episodes left of this series, there is only one question left to ask, would you like some toast?
- Grounded story, just the foursome on camera delivering some of their best work
- Easily one of Naylors best scripts, funny, clever, and wholeheartedly British in its wittiness
- Brilliant fan-pleasing throwbacks
- Without the nostalgia, the episode wouldn’t offer quite as much. It relies heavily on long-term fans remembering classic gags – I’m struggling to find fault so this is grasping for something.